Soldiers sue DoD for retaliation against rape victims, Gates and Rumsfield named
Lawsuit says military tolerates rape, assault
By Rick Maze – February 15, 2011 – A federal lawsuit filed Tuesday charges the Defense Department with responsibility for rape and sexual assault in the ranks by failing to investigate the sex crimes, failing to prosecute the perpetrators and maintaining a weak judicial system.
The suit claims, specifically, that current Defense Secretary Robert Gates and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are responsible for a military in which rape and sexual assault victims “were openly subjected to retaliation,” discouraged from reporting the crimes and “ordered to keep quiet and refrain from telling anyone about the criminal acts.”
The suit seeks unspecified monetary damages, but Keith Rohman of Public Interest Investigations, a Los Angeles-based firm that helped prepare the case, said getting a day in court before a federal judge so the victims can tell their stories is a key goal.
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said sexual assault is not just a military problem.
“Sexual assault is a wider societal problem and Secretary Gates has been working with the service chiefs to make sure the U.S. military is doing all it can to prevent and respond to it,” Morrell said in a statement.
“That means providing more money, personnel, training and expertise, including reaching out to other large institutions such as universities to learn best practices. This is now a command priority, but we clearly still have more work to do in order to ensure all of our service members are safe from abuse.”
The suit has 17 plaintiffs — 15 women and two men — who have similar stories of being harassed and raped by someone in the military, usually a superior, only to be discouraged from reporting the crime and see the attacker escape serious punishment.
One of the plaintiffs who appeared at a Tuesday press conference is former Army Sgt. Myla Haider, who says she was raped in 2002 by a senior Army Criminal Investigative Division agent while stationed in Yongsan, Korea, in a unit that investigated, among other things, rape and sexual assault. Haider said she did not report the crime, although she confided to other agents, because her experience led her to believe the rapist would not be prosecuted.
Former Marine Cpl. Sarah Albertson is another plaintiff who met with reporters. She says she was raped in 2006 by another Marine but was advised by her command that she and the Marine could both be charged with inappropriate behavior in the barracks because they were drinking. She says she also was told to respect her accused rapist because he outranked her, and was ultimately forced to work in the same area and live in barracks one floor below the accused rapist for two years, Albertson said.
A third plaintiff who met with reporters is Kori Cioca, who served in the Coast Guard and claims she was raped in 2005 by a Coast Guard superior — something that falls outside of the Defense Department’s jurisdiction, although the Coast Guard uses a similar judicial system.
The details of Cioca’s assault is similar to Haider’s and Albertson’s. She said she was threatened with court-martial for lying if she brought rape charges against the superior, who she said pulled her into his stateroom and raped her. She said her superior ultimately was forced out of the service for allegedly having inappropriate relationships with other service members.
The Defense Department and the services have been studying sex crimes in the ranks for decades, looking for changes in culture, command structure and the judicial system to overcome a command climate that is often viewed as unreceptive and discouraging to complaints.
“Rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment are a plague upon the United States military,” said Anuradha Bhagwati, a former Marine Corps officer who is executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Service Women’s Action Network.
“As a Marine commander, I witnessed my own senior officers violate sexual harassment and sexual assault policies, shirk their responsibilities to their own troops and lie to families by ignoring abuse, transfer sexual predators out of their units instead of prosecuting them, promote sexual predators during ongoing investigations and accuse highly decorated enlisted service members of lying about their abuse simply because they were women,” she said.
That kind of command climate allows predators to get away with rape and assault, she said, noting the military’s own reports show that fewer than one in five military sexual predators face charges. “Most walk away with slaps on the wrist instead of jail time,” she said, and those who get away with rape once end up being repeat offenders.
“A very small percentage of men are the perpetrators,” she said, but 95 percent of sex crimes “are done by serial, repeat offenders.” (Click HERE for original article)